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Doctor Who XXXII.13: The Wedding of River Song, continued

October 5th, 2011 (02:09 am)

Previous post here or here.

The Doctor tells Winston Churchill the tale of his farewell tour, to explain how "a woman" came to collapse time. Churchill becomes the audience identification figure here, the naif to whom the complexities of the Doctor's life will be explained. Churchill's status as an icon of British national values might be being appropriated here. Rory's identification with British historical myth-making was established in 'The Big Bang', his watch over the Pandorica providing a timeline for British history in a contracting bubble universe. In 'A Good Man Goes to War', Amy identified Rory as a hero of human mythology, though 'the Last Centurion' has already been established as peculiar to British landmarks and historical tragedies; even the hauling of the Pandorica to Rome recalls the fate of Caratacus. Amy herself breaks into the story at the heart of an incursion by special forces dressed in a black suit, in command and by action stirred, not shaken: the Doctor makes the obvious connection and hails her as "Pond. Amelia Pond." The eternal 5:02 is a medley of finest hours, also emphasising that this Doctor Who doesn't need red double-deckers to signify its Britishness to the increasingly important international audience.

The Doctor characterises his journeying before his appearance at Lake Silencio as a 'farewell tour'; but this is part of the exposure of the structure of the season, both as an assembly of reflections on Doctor Who's recent past, and as something which the Doctor needs to research before he can decide how to complete it. The Doctor concedes that he can't cross his own timestream to Captain Carter of the Teselecta, but comes as close as he can, picking up abandoned threads of his own life and following their entanglement with the web of the Silence. His countenance is bleak almost throughout. Even if he has realised that the fixed-point event witnessed on 22 April 2011 isn't necessarily his death, his failure to meet with the Brigadier makes him realise that even if time is not his boss, there are other people who are endeavouring to claim that too. The lethal chess game which he plays with Gorvok (in an environment which reminded me of the world of Mad Max, Tina Turner's Beyond Thunderdome video, and the television realisation of Hitch-Hiker's Restaurant at the End of the Universe) encapsulates the wider battle; one error of judgement in the contest with the Silence and the Doctor will be incinerated. Gorvok's quasi-Viking appearance confirms the mythological associations of the eyepatch/eye drive - the servants of the Silence have surrendered an eye for an eternal wisdom which the Doctor already has, which makes him both more amiable and more terrible. The carnivorous living skulls of the Headless Monks also ring bells from legend and mediaeval literature.

I was asked following my last post whether I thought the revelation that it was the Teselecta that was shot by Lake Silencio was a cop-out. I don't entirely think so, though the execution of the revelation was anti-climactic. Steven Moffat was offering a refinement of the idea of fixed points in time which he has inherited from Russell T Davies. The fixed-point event had been misinterpreted because those who witnessed it had misunderstood it based on the lack of evidence, the most important witness being the Silent on the ridge. Whether the Silence will realise that the Doctor is still at Trenzalore, when the Eleventh will fall, remains open for now, because we don't know whether any other factors will intervene. The pattern is intricate, and still being drawn. History was not being rewritten by the Doctor; he had just made sure that crucial evidence was withheld.

The Doctor wearing a Doctor-suit hammers home how much of the Doctor's interaction with the outside world is performance. The episode, too, performs Doctor Whoness with allusions to pasts, and not necessarily linear ones. Dorium, now a talking head, is annexed as the Doctor's companion, becoming the head who waited, sitting in the TARDIS while the Doctor voices the Teselecta. There are echoes here of both Tom Baker's talking cabbage companion proposal, and of Paul Cornell's TARDIS-bound robot Master in Scream of the Shalka. Gorvok falls into a convenient pit much as the Master did in The Curse of Fatal Death. The final scene shows the Doctor in a monk's habit again, recalling the programme's association of monks (and the Monk) with irresponsibility, deviousness and foolery. The Doctor's outfit has evolved away from the tweedy 'geography teacher' of the first Matt Smith season; with a stetson, the silhouette is now both more Victorian and recalls the first and fourth Doctors in particular. The outfit also imports the image of the lone hero of the Hollywood western, as well as 1980s Hollywood's reinvention of the professor-hero, Indiana Jones.

Next: Love and marriage!

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/456010.html.


Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 12:08 pm (UTC)

The episode, too, performs Doctor Whoness with allusions to pasts

I thought that the pterodactyls in Hyde Park might be a reference to Invasion of the Dinosaurs (cf. the milkman in The Stolen Earth).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 05:01 pm (UTC)

Yes, I'm sure they are. The image of Pertwee fending off a pterodactyl is one of those iconic Doctor Who stills, particularly after Chris Achilleos's interpretation of it (and for anyone passing who doesn't know what I'm talking about, here's the book cover).

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC)

I've wanted that on a t-shirt for years!

I have the 'blue spine' reprint of the novel. The tyrannosaurus is more realistic, but it lacks the Roy Lichtenstein feel. My primary school had the earlier edition, but I discovered that around fifty pages were missing. My friend had read the book without noticing it, one of many things that made me wonder if he actually liked Doctor Who or was just pretending because a charismatic mutual friend liked it.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 09:53 pm (UTC)

Some people 'read' books more superficially than you or I, evidently. Perhaps he did like Doctor Who - or maybe it was you he wanted to impress.

The first edition I had of the book was the 1978 reprint, which was the first with Jeff Cummins's dinosaur-on-Peter's-Hill (probably sourced from Cybermen reference photographs), which sat on most of the Target impressions. (Reprints of the hardback, of which there was at least one, continued to use the Achilleos cover.) Happily should BBC Books reprint the book I imagine it will be the Achilleos cover which will come back. I didn't mind the Pearson, though.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 10:37 pm (UTC)
Radcliffe Camera

I'm more nostalgic for the blue spine books than some people, as those were the ones I bought as a child, although I borrowed plenty of older editions from my school and public libraries. The pictures were more realistic in the later reprints, which was an additional appeal at an age when I wanted Doctor Who to be real (or what an eight year old thinks is real, which is not the same thing). Nowadays I can see the pop art appeal of some of the older covers.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 10:53 pm (UTC)

Agreed - it's very much a generational thing, and I think the early 1990s reprint covers were a step up from most of what had passed for Target covers during the 1980s (apart from many of the mid-1980s Skilleter run and the early Pearson covers) and represented Doctor Who more credibly than the BBC could manage at the time.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 10:58 pm (UTC)

To be fair to the BBC, some of the 90s novelization covers were reused from the BBC video covers (I particularly remember the impressive cover for what both called An Unearthly Child), in what was a fairly good (for the time) example of brand management.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 10:59 pm (UTC)

True - though I plead I was thinking more of BBC Television than BBC Video..!

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
Liz & Pertwee

Ahh - and I was just thinkking of Torchwood here...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC)

Myfanwy lives (albeit in another reality)!

Posted by: gwydion_writes (gwydion_writes)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 01:49 pm (UTC)

There's a whole wealth to be said about the growth of self-aware international status in recent seasons. It's a subtly shifting atmosphere, particularly in symbolic settings etc.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: October 6th, 2011 05:07 pm (UTC)

Absolutely. Russell T Davies tended towards setting all the contemporary stories in London and dressing them up with red buses (the one in 'Planet of the Dead' looked as if it had never been anywhere near London in its life, with the designer not even approximating the trademark Johnston typeface for the destination blind). Steven Moffat is much more concerned with the Doctor as a mythological figure - as opposed to a Messianic one - and so the trappings of that mythology are explored.